The his­tory of cricket

This ‘gentle­man’s game’ is the sec­ond-most pop­u­lar game in the world, af­ter soc­cer

DRUM - - In The Classroom -

CRICKET has been played for cen­turies. His­to­ri­ans be­lieve it started as a child’s game in the 13th cen­tury in The Weald, a wood­land area in south­east Eng­land. The chil­dren of farm­ers and shep­herds likely played it in for­est clear­ings and on land grazed by sheep.

Other his­to­ri­ans be­lieve cricket and base­ball de­vel­oped from stool­ball, an­other game played in the same area of Eng­land. It’s still played to­day, es­pe­cially by women, and started with milk maids us­ing their milk­ing stools as a wicket and their wooden milk bowl as a bat.


The ear­li­est writ­ten ref­er­ence to cricket is found in the doc­u­ments of a 1598 court case about a land dis­pute. Coroner John Derrick (59) tes­ti­fied in court that he and his friends had played “creck­ett” in an open lot in Guild­ford, Surrey, 50 years ear­lier. The sport prob­a­bly de­vel­oped from a sim­ple game where one player tossed a ball or a piece of wood at an­other player, who then tried hit­ting it with a stick (later a bat). His­to­ri­ans aren’t sure when ex­actly cricket de­vel­oped to the point where the bats­man also had to pro­tect a tar­get (the wick­ets) from the bowler. At some stage play­ers started scor­ing points ac­cord­ing to the dis­tance the bats­man could hit the ball. Helpers (field­ers) then started fea­tur­ing in the game that ini­tially only had two play­ers. This turned it into a team sport. In the 1600s cricket be­came in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar – not only among boys, but also adult men. It be­came an or­gan­ised sport. The first recorded cricket match with 11 play­ers a side was played in 1697 in Sus­sex. That’s prob­a­bly when cricket be­came pop­u­lar with spec­ta­tors.


When the game first in­cluded a tar­get, boys would prob­a­bly just stand in front of a tree stump or wicket gate – a small door that’s part of a larger door such as the huge dou­ble doors of a cas­tle. An­other name for the wicket is “stumps”.

The wicket or stumps are three wooden sticks stuck into the ground ver­ti­cally. They have grooves on the top end on which the bails (which might orig­i­nally have been stones or sticks) rest hor­i­zon­tally. When the ball hits the stumps, the bails fall off. This is prob­a­bly why bails were added in the first place as this makes it eas­ier to tell when the ball has hit the stumps and the bats­man is out. There used to be only two stumps but in the 1770s a third stump was added. The length of the pitch – the area be­tween the two sets of wick­ets

– was stan­dard­ised to 22 yards (20,12m) as far back as 1706.


Early on the “ball” was prob­a­bly just a stone or a pine cone. To­day balls are made of cork cov­ered in leather. Since 1774 the weight of the ball has been stan­dard­ised at be­tween 156g and 163g. Men and boys above the age of 13 play with this ball, and lighter balls are used by women and younger chil­dren.

The ball is tra­di­tion­ally red, mak­ing it eas­ier to see, but these days white and pink balls are used as these colours are more vis­i­ble at night un­der flood­lights.


The ear­li­est bats were sticks shaped more like hockey sticks. This was be­cause for cen­turies the ball was rolled on the ground like in bowls in­stead of pitched. Balls were first pitched in the 1760s by throw­ing them un­der­arm.

The story goes that round-arm bowl­ing – in which the arm is held at a 90° an­gle away from the body – was in­vented in the 1820s by John Willes, whose sis­ter, Chris­tiana, had to bowl this way to him be­cause her wide dress got in the way.

This de­vel­oped into over­arm bowl­ing – which al­lows the bowler to lift his hand above shoul­der height – and spin bowl­ing.

These new bowl­ing tech­niques made it nec­es­sary for the bat to evolve to en­able the bats­man to re­turn a ball with dif­fer­ent strokes, such as a cut, a flick or a drive. To en­able this, the bat’s han­dle was short­ened and the bat it­self was straight­ened and flat­tened.


By the 18th cen­tury, cricket had started spread­ing from the south­east of Eng­land to other parts of the coun­try. Women’s

cricket dates to 1745, when the first women’s match was recorded in Surrey.

Be­cause so many peo­ple were play­ing the game, it be­came nec­es­sary to stan­dard­ise the rules. In 1744 the Laws of Cricket were writ­ten down. By 1774 these rules needed to be amended to ad­dress new de­vel­op­ments such as leg be­fore wicket (lbw), the third stump and the max­i­mum width of the bat.

These codes were for­malised by the Star and Garter Club, whose mem­bers later, in 1787, founded the fa­mous Maryle­bone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord’s in Lon­don. The MCC be­came the guardian of the laws and to this day is the high­est author­ity when it comes to amend­ing the rules.


Cricket spread over­seas when it was played in the first English colonies in North Amer­ica. Canada’s Toronto Cricket Club and the St Ge­orge Cricket Club in New York in the US played the first in­ter­na­tional cricket match in 1844. Toronto won by 23 runs. But the pop­u­lar­ity of base­ball as a sum­mer sport later eclipsed cricket in North Amer­ica. Cricket spread to the Bri­tish colonies in the West In­dian Is­lands, the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent and Aus­tralia in the 18th cen­tury. It reached New Zealand and South Africa early in the 19th cen­tury. Cricket was tra­di­tion­ally a slow game, stretch­ing over days. But in the 20th cen­tury this changed with the in­tro­duc­tion of one-day cricket (matches with a lim­ited num­ber of overs, usu­ally 50 each). T20 cricket is even faster, with a max­i­mum of 20 overs. These mod­ern forms have boosted the pop­u­lar­ity of the game sig­nif­i­cantly. To think, cricket was once just an in­for­mal child’s game. Now it draws crowds of thou­sands and is broad­cast all over the world.

FAR LEFT: This 1743 paint­ing Cricket in the Ar­tillery Ground by Francis Hayman shows men play­ing cricket on any open field they can find. The bat is a thin, curved club like a hockey stick and the bowler rolls the ball along the ground. The scorer sits in the fore­ground keep­ing score by cut­ting notches in a stick. LEFT: The world’s old­est cricket bat dates from 1729.

LEFT: This paint­ing by Francis Cotes, The Young Crick­eter (1768), shows that the wicket used to be two sticks with a third bal­anced across it. BE­LOW: This exhibit shows how the cricket bat de­vel­oped through the ages to adapt to chang­ing bowl­ing tech­niques.

Cricket balls are tra­di­tion­ally red. These days white and pink balls are used in day-night matches be­cause they’re more vis­i­ble un­der flood­lights.

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